In­mates crack phone PIN codes

Emails re­veal Con­necti­cut pris­on­ers made hun­dreds of unau­tho­rized, un­tracked calls

The News-Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Lisa Backus

State in­mates were able to ac­cess “test” PIN codes to make hun­dreds, and pos­si­bly thou­sands, of un­tracked phone calls over three months start­ing late last year, ac­cord­ing to emails ob­tained by Hearst Con­necti­cut Media.

The codes were likely ei­ther stolen while tech­ni­cians from Se­cu­rus Tech­nolo­gies, the con­tracted in­mate phone provider, per­formed main­te­nance on the sys­tem or by mak­ing repeated ran­dom di­als, said Se­cu­rus Ac­count Man­ager Jimbo Pow­ers on Tues­day.

“They were the test PINs our tech­ni­cians use,” Pow­ers said. “The in­mates ei­ther were look­ing over some­one’s shoul­der or ran­domly di­al­ing.” A PIN is a per­son­al­ized iden­ti­fi­ca­tion num­ber that was needed to make the calls.

The unau­tho­rized calls likely al­lowed in­mates ac­cess to more phone time than is usu­ally al­lot­ted, Pow­ers said.

State Depart­ment of Correction mon­i­tors au­tho­rized calls made by in­mates to make sure they are call­ing peo­ple on their ap­proved list, in­clud­ing de­fense at­tor­neys. In some cases, the recorded calls are gleaned for in­for­ma­tion that is turned over to prose­cu­tors who are ad­ju­di­cat­ing cases in­volv­ing par­tic­u­lar in­mates.

So far, four in­mates have been iden­ti­fied as us­ing the test PINs, said Karen Mar­tucci, spokes­woman for the DOC. Each will face dis­ci­pline which could in­clude re­stric­tive hous­ing and loss of priv­i­leges. They ad­mit­ted to try­ing num­bers ran­domly un­til one worked, she said.

No prison em­ploy­ees will be dis­ci­plined, said Mar­tucci. She said it is not the job of correction of­fi­cers to mon­i­tor in­mate phone calls.

Emails be­tween Pow­ers and cor­rec­tions of­fi­cials in­di­cated that at least 500 were made with two PIN codes used by the com­pany’s tech­ni­cians to test the in­mate phone sys­tem from last Dec. 1 to Feb. 14, when Se­cu­rus was con­tacted about the breach.

The emails were turned over to Hearst as part of a Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion re­quest. The state re­cently ex­tended its contract with Se­cu­rus for two more years. The com­pany has man­aged the state's in­mate phone ser­vice since 2011.

DOC of­fi­cials de­manded on Feb. 14 that the Texas-based contractor con­duct an immediate in­ves­ti­ga­tion af­ter rais­ing con­cerns that the un­tracked calls, which pos­si­bly ran into the thou­sands, were al­low­ing in­mates con­tact with their vic­tims, said Capt. Domenick Pisano with the DOC’s Se­cu­rity Di­vi­sion.

“It is our duty to pro­tect the pub­lic to in­clude the at­tempt to cease the con­tact of sus­pects com­mu­ni­cat­ing with their vic­tims,” Pisano said in an email to Pow­ers. “As a re­sult, our ad­min­is­tra­tion is de­mand­ing that Se­cu­rus con­duct a full in­ves­ti­ga­tion into this breach and the find­ings re­ported to me im­me­di­ately.”

The breach was dis­cov­ered in mid-Fe­bru­ary when a mem­ber of the DOC’s In­tel­li­gence Unit found a call made with a PIN code that wasn’t as­signed to an in­mate, Mar­tucci said. She be­lieved the calls were so­cial in na­ture and all were recorded. A check of the calls made with the test PINs re­vealed no se­cu­rity con­cerns, she said.

The com­pany is still work­ing on de­ter­min­ing how many and which in­mates made the calls, she said.

In all, more than 20 test PIN codes were iden­ti­fied and deleted as part of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, ac­cord­ing to the emails. But Pow­ers said Tues­day he be­lieves only two of the codes were used by in­mates.

When asked if any of the calls were made to crime vic­tims, Pow­ers said, “hope­fully not.”

The test PINs were used by in­mates at sev­eral facilities, the emails said. The top two test PIN codes used gen­er­ated at least 500 calls from Dec. 1 to Feb. 14, Pisano told Pow­ers.

The codes were de­ac­ti­vated as part of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, Pow­ers said. New steps have been taken to en­sure in­mates don’t ac­quire test PIN codes again, he added.

The DOC cur­rently houses about 13,000 in­mates at 20 cor­rec­tions facilities. In­mates who have phone call ac­counts are as­signed a PIN code which is de­ac­ti­vated when they are re­leased from prison, Pow­ers said.

All phone calls ex­cept cer­tain ones made to de­fense at­tor­neys come with a charge, Power said. The phone calls made with the test PINs were not free, he added.

A PIN code is given to each in­mate who has a phone ac­count, Mar­tucci said. In­mates are al­lowed to call only ap­proved num­bers on their list, which is tied to the pin code. The test PIN codes al­lowed the in­mates to call peo­ple not on their ap­proved call­ing list, she said.

A re­view of the calls made with the test pins did not re­veal any re­quests to bring con­tra­band into the prison, wit­ness tam­per­ing or con­tact with vic­tims, she added.

Go­ing for­ward all test PINs will be de­ac­ti­vated im­me­di­ately af­ter use, Pow­ers told DOC of­fi­cials.

“We will also per­form pe­ri­odic re­views of the ac­count lists to as­sure the process is be­ing fol­lowed,” he said.

Steve Ueck­ert / Hous­ton Chron­i­cle

Con­necti­cut in­mates made unau­tho­rized calls us­ing test PIN num­bers over a three-month pe­riod, state emails re­veal.

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